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Billy Bunter is the most famous creation by the author Charles Hamilton, written under the pen name Frank Richards. Charles Hamilton used upwards of twenty pen names and is the most prolific author of boy's stories of all time. You will find him in the Guinness book of records and it is estimated that he wrote over 80,000,000 words or the equivalent of 1,000 average length novels. Born in Ealing, Middlesex, England on August 8, 1876, it is thought that he wrote his first story just nine years later, in 1885.
Billy Bunter was brought to fame as part of The Magnet, a boy's magazine which ran between 1908 and 1940 for a total of 1683 issues. Billy Bunter featured in well over a thousand of these magazines, with his part growing as Hamilton realized the comic potential of Billy Bunter. With the ceasing of publication of the boy's paper magazine due to the second world war and paper shortages, Billy Bunter remained only in comic form in the KnockOut Comic and Annual until Charles Skilton noticed an article in the 1946 Picture Post about Charles Hamilton, also known as Frank Richards. This led to Skilton contacting Hamilton and persuading him to write more Billy Bunter stories, and to accept royalties for the publication instead of Hamilton's normal payment of a flat fee per 1,000 words. Therefore, after the copyright issues had been sorted out, Billy Bunter made his first appearance in book form in the novel Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School published in 1947. The books were a great hit but after publishing ten books Skilton had to give up publishing them due an inability to obtain sufficient paper supplies. At this point Cassell took over the publication.
Cassell published a further twenty-eight novels starting with Billy Bunter's Beanfeast and finishing with Bunter's Last Fling in 1965. The thirty-eight books were published in a variety of colours but all had a very distinctive yellow background jacket. The first book to appear with a number on the wrapper spine was No. 18 - Lord Billy Bunter but it is worth noting that all the earlier titles were then reprinted by Cassell with the number on the wrapper spine. Hamilton died on the 24th December 1961 aged 85, therefore the last few books were finished off by other writers, including the penultimate book Bunter the Sportsman.
But what of our hero BILLY BUNTER? Well, he is definitely not your typical hero (top of the class, good at sport etc....). Bunter's nickname is "Fat Owl" and his main characteristics are dishonesty and greed, not to mention being pathologically self-centered, snobbish, racist, conceited, lazy, cowardly, mean-spirited and stupid - indeed he may be better described as an anti-hero! Yet despite all of these attributes Hamilton gets the reader to sympathise with the character for his sheer brazen effrontery and his persistence in the face of inevitable failure. The one real talent Bunter has is ventriloquism which leads to plenty of humorous moments and gets him out of many a jam!
The majority of the stories are based at Greyfriars School, a boarding school set in the fictional village of Friardale. From reading the author's stories it is clear that the school would, if real, be based somewhere in Kent , England. The school is made up of seven forms based upon age group of which Billy Bunter is a member of the Remove.
Billy Bunter's one main concern is food, although he always seems to manage quite well by scoffing the other boys' cakes and sweets when their backs are turned. He has some famous lines which appear consistently throughout the novels. If you have ever thought "have I ever read a Billy Bunter Story?" you will know instantly by his catch phrases - the main two being "I say you fellows" and his exclamation of pain "Yarooh!".
Several members of Billy Bunter's family make fairly common appearances in the stories: Bessie Bunter, who has similar characteristics to Billy Bunter and stars in her own book Bessie Bunter of Cliff House School, the nearby girl's school; Sammy Bunter who is a member of the second form at Greyfriars school; and their father, Mr. Samuel Bunter, who shows little interest in his children, and is a largely unsuccessful stock-broker with a severe manner who likes to complain about income tax and school fees.
Billy Bunter is also a star of television and stage. Forty TV programmes of 30 minutes each were broadcast between 1952 and 1961 plus at least six plays, but the Fat Owl never made the jump to film. During the 1970's and 80's Howard Baker republished many of the Billy Bunter appearances in the Magnet in facsimile form. The facsimiles are not published in any number sequence, but grouped together for story purposes, for example, Bunter the Ventriloquist contains Magnet issues 1159, 1187, 1188, 1190, 1226, 1311, 1317 and 1328.
As Frank Richards's Billy Bunter stories are so prolific it is very hard to give you all of the information available but I hope you have enjoyed this introduction. If you would like to know more you may wish to visit some of the websites below from which the info rmation in this article was sourced:
You may also be interested in our Gallery of the thirty-eight Yellow Jacket Bunter Books where you can see the design of the wrappers and check our stock:
Contributed by Adam Parker
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